The Ford government’s push to add more internationally-educated nurses to Ontario’s stretched health-care system resulted in just 27 nurses being registered during the program’s first month, according to new data.
The College of Nurses of Ontario’s applicant statistics show more than 6,000 internationally-trained nursing applicants are lodged in the province but have not been successfully registered.
In the fall, as part of a bid to shore up staffing in provincial hospitals, the Progressive Conservative government allowed the College of Nurses’ suggestion to temporarily register internationally educated health-care workers to practice while they work toward their full registration.
The move was one of several highlighted in an Oct. 27 media release, where the health minister said the changes would bring “more health care workers into our health system faster, helping to care for people when they need it.”
But data shows that promise has been sluggish in its early phase.
Figures maintained by the College of Nurses show that between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1, 2022, just 27 new nurses were registered under the program.
The College of Nurses of Ontario data suggests 380 international nurses were eligible for temporary class status through November but just seven per cent were successfully registered.
The second month saw a slight increase with 40 more nurses added from Dec. 2 to Jan. 1, 2023.
In total, over two months, just 67 new international nurses were registered under the temporary category.
“Good for the 67, but we need hundreds and thousands of nurses,” France Gélinas, Ontario NDP health critic, told Global News.
She said she believed the figure was likely a reflection of nurses feeling “disrespected,” particularly by Bill 124 and pandemic burnout.
“Nurses talk,” she added, referencing difficult work conditions on the front lines of Ontario’s heath-care system.
A spokesperson for health minister Sylvia Jones said that in October, the College of Nurses noted more than 5,000 internationally-educated nurses “whose applications are at various stages of the registration process.”
The spokesperson said those nurses would “be able to enter the workforce sooner” because of changes greenlit by the Ford government.
Adil Shamji, the Ontario Liberal health critic, said he was unsurprised by the low registrations.
“Even though we know that international health-care workers are eager to work and support our health-care system — there are many of them in our province — this government really has not prioritized credentialling them in any sort of expedited manner,” he told Global News.
The relatively low uptake for Ontario’s temporary class of nurses does not tell the whole story, however, the College of Nurses of Ontario says.
A spokesperson told Global News that 2022 was “a record-setting year for nurse registrations in Ontario.”
The college pointed to programs such as the Supervised Practice Experience Program — which had registered 1,108 international nurses as of Dec. 16 — as one of its successes.
Non-internationally trained nurses have also been registered through the program.
“Changes to regulations allowing registration in the temporary class are key to maintain this registration momentum,” the spokesperson said.
A report published by the College of Nurses of Ontario toward the end of 2022 showed a significant number of nursing registrations over the year.
In its report — Gains and Losses 2022 — the college tracked the number of nurses, including registered nurses, registered practical nurses and nurse practitioners, who renewed their license to practice and those who allowed it to lapse, effectively signalling an exit from the industry.
A total of 10,814 nurses were counted as gains in 2022, compared to 6,773 losses. It made last year the second highest number of net nurse gains in Ontario over a five-year period at 4,041. The highest year for net gains, according to the figures, was 2019 with 4,734.
Those numbers represent working nurses — not nurses in the non-practising class.
As the new year began, on Jan. 1, the College of Nurses introduced new measures designed to further boost the province’s nursing registrations.
A spokesperson said tighter timelines are now in place, meaning that within 15 days of applying to register candidates are told if they have submitted all the necessary information or if more paperwork is required.
New language proficiency tests, a total of two English and two French, are also being accepted, while work is underway to expand the scope of registered practical nurses — if the government approves it.
“We are resolutely focused on this goal and are working to ensure all eligible applicants have the information necessary to pursue registration,” the College of Nurses of Ontario spokesperson said.